The golden statistic surrounding Montreal’s student ecosystem has always been this: as early as 2013, the city was credited as having the highest number of university students per capita of any city in North America.
Within the realm of student entrepreneurship, Montreal’s university administrators have bought in. Over the past year new programs like McGill’s X-1 accelerator have sprung up, while others like Concordia’s District3 continues to churn out high-potential young companies.
Here’s five university entrepreneurship initiatives in the city, and why readers may want to take a closer look at the ideas being generated in each.
1. District 3 Innovation Center, Concordia University
It may spell the word “center” in the American form, but Concordia University’s District 3 could be the pride of Canada’s french-speaking province when it comes to university entrepreneurship initiatives. Little has been written about District 3 in mainstream press, but that could change soon given the history attached to the program.
It’s actually been around for three years now, originating in 2013 before raising money to build its makerspace in early 2014. Today the centre offers its 12-week Startup Program (SUP), and incubation zone where fledgling startups can build a team and get support, and one-on-one coaching for entrepreneurs by coaches trained by the NCIIA Venture well program.
Entrepreneurs don’t actually have to be students at Concordia to take advantages of District 3’s services and the space doesn’t charge anything for mentorship. Moreover, entrepreneurs own any IP they create. Working professionals can come in and join a startup or join the Professional Development Accelerator, a four-week program to help people “get their professional career up and running,” with networking opportunities after each session.
Meanwhile, District 3’s MakerSpace has now been in operation for two months in its new location. There, entrepreneurs, creatives and engineers can take advantage of tools, guidance or workshops. The centre provides workstations, soldering irons, glue guns, basic electronics, engravers and more tools. If members are interested in boosting their technical experience, they can sign up for the Technical Accelerator Program. This program provides weekly workshops.
Check out all 22 of District 3’s in-house startups here.
2. X-1 Accelerator, McGill University
Housed in the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, the brand-new X-1 Accelerator at McGill University only opened its doors a few months ago, but it’s already been the focus of a MTLinTech feature story.
The MIT-modelled program is a 10-week educational summer program that “empowers the McGill community to build innovative companies.” Teams are generally selected from those startups that participated in the McGill Dobson Cup, which necessitates that at least one member be linked to the university (a student, faculty, staff or alumnus). Within those students that joined, over 70 percent of participants were outside the school’s faculty of management, which means the entrepreneurs are coming from a diverse web of backgrounds.
Program manager Thibaud Marechal told MTLinTech that currently five teams are neck-deep in the X-1 accelerator, which concludes with a Demo Day on September 9. Marechal claims the program boasts over 30 mentors from companies like Google, PasswordBox, Frank & Oak, VanHawks and more. If a particular team finds a good fit with a mentor, they can enter into a mentorship program, which spans the entire program.
Teams are not guaranteed the funding that the program’s private investors allocate to them; rather, that’s up to a body of third-party, experienced startup veterans in the community who serve as board-members for the startups.
“The purpose of the accelerator is to build great companies and the byproduct is we’re crafting better first time founders,” said Marechal. ““I’m excited about all the companies.”
All teams must have at least one technical cofounder, with two to five founders in total.
3. McGill Entrepreneurs Society, McGill University
The McGill Entrepreneurs Society is a polished student club that doesn’t lack in offerings. It doesn’t offer an accelerator, a MakerSpace or a funded incubator, but it does make do with the limited funding it has.
Incoming president Marc-Alain Guilbert, who’s entering his third-year in engineering, said that while the Dobson Centre and X-1 focuses its students on the academic and learning side of entrepreneurship, MES more wants to “take a student and show them the real world.”
The student-run society engages alumni, local and global entrepreneurs and investors in activities entrepreneurial in nature. It promotes entrepreneurship through three main events: the McGill Startup Career Fair, the MES Thinkathon and Startup Cocktails.
The McGill Startup Career Fair connects successful startups in North America with McGill students for career purposes. The event reached a milestone in 2013 when 800 participants and 30 companies came. Now they’re aiming for 1,000-strong in 2016.
“Some students got to know us who were not necessarily into entrepreneurship, but went to the event. We got them in a big room on campus, we did heavy promotion and people just came. Those same students without interest in entrepreneurship ended up having internships with startups in the summer,” said Guilbert.
The MES Thinkathon is a weekend-long hackathon-like event in which all ideas are submitted to McGill’s Dobson Cup Entrepreneurship Competition. Unlike many hackathons, said Guilbert, the point of the Thinkathon is to welcome all kinds of minds, especially those without technical experience.
Those who become a member of the MES can gain free access to all of the society’s events, and free access to its talent database of students actively looking for startups to join or internship opportunities. One of those events is Startup Cocktails, which is “a big hit” for MES. The crowd of half-students, half-entrepreneurs network, hear from a prominent speaker and learn more about startups.
Not to be outdone by their cross-town rivals, the Université de Montréal and its affiliated schools HEC and Polytechnique have their own web of student startup initiatives.
The main program is Startup Campus, which was organized in late 2013 by Pleiade Capital, the school’s student-led venture capital organization. The 12-week program “proactively helps student-entrepreneurs and their projects to enable them to grow and meet their development goals,” serving as a kind of stepping-stone for students within the school network.
It’s 2014 cohort consisted of three startups: Loyer Express, an online property management that helps managers to collect their rents faster and communicate more easily with their tenants; Mako, a company that aimed to democratize the telecommunications market in Quebec through reliable internet telephony; and Wipebook, an engineering-design company that invented, designed, and manufactured the first ever fully functional reusable whiteboard notebook. The team appeared on Dragon’s Den in early 2015 and now sells its product in select Staples stores.
Pleiade, meanwhile, calls itself Quebec’s first student-led venture capital organization. It was founded in 2009 by Alexandre Legault Frenette and Martin Lefebvre, who were both studying finance at HEC Montréal, and typically accepts around 15-20 graduate students as members. It’s goals have revolved around offering intermediary VC services to the Montreal community, promoting venture capital on campus and raising the first ever student-run venture capital fund in Quebec.
5. HackMcGill, McGill University
Founded in August 2013, HackMcGill is more of an independent student group than a program dependent on a university. Still, the crew has made a nice name for itself after hosting a few hackathons in Canada with huge ambition.
Back in 2014 the group began hosting weekly Hack Nights and sponsored Hack Nights before setting their sites on Canada’s largest hackathon ever. “There’s kind of a missing [computer science] community at McGill,” Mark Prokoudine, a founder, told writer Kate Sheridan at the time. “We looked for it and it wasn’t there, so we decided to start it ourselves.”
That turned into McHacks 2014, where an estimated 500 student hackers competed for about $30,000 in prizes. McHacks 2015 happened in February of this year, where an estimated 700 students showed up. This time it was supported by several big-wigs in the startup culture as well, like Shopify, Thiel, LightSpeed, AppDirect, Morgan Stanley and many, many more. Students from any university from any country were welcome and even those who had never hacked before were encouraged to join. In the student spirit of helping out those who were cash-strapped, McHacks even offered $60 towards those coming from out-of-town.
What’s next for the group isn’t exactly clear. One has to have a McGill email to join their facebook group (which doesn’t immediately seem that inclusive) and there hasn’t been any major updates since McHacks 2015, even on their Twitter account.